I began my career as an accountant working for a Big 4 firm in their audit department. At first, this seemed like a great opportunity. I had gone from a small town, to being able to be directly involved in the financial accounts of funds and businesses work hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of pounds. I had been studying Accounting at University for such a long time, I just couldn’t wait to get involved, but I soon began to hate audit.
There are many benefits to starting your career in audit though. Especially if you’re someone who isn’t certain about where they want their career to go. Even though I know audit is not the career path for me, and many others, I do not regret starting my career where I did. I credit my time at my job in the Big 4 as the reason I am where I am today. I’m not sure I would have been quite as successful to this point if I had started in a small no-name practice working on small client accounts.
There Are Benefits To Working In Audit
I would always recommend working in a smaller office if you start your career in audit. The reason for this is it will give you a broader look at the services that company provides, and you will be able to work for a broader range of clients. By smaller office, I mean still aiming to get a job in a large company (Like EY, PwC, KPMG or Deloitte), however, targeting one of their smaller offices. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had tried to get a job in one of the London offices. I just wouldn’t have got the same broad experience.
When I began my career, I knew I wanted to be an accountant, however, I didn’t know exactly what area of accounting I wanted to work in.
Audit allowed me to realise what areas of the finance world I had interests in. My three years in audit taught me that I disliked working with a bank, but really enjoyed private equity and hedge funds. This meant that when I was looking to take my steps out of audit, I began looking for jobs at Private Equity and Hedge Funds.
This is the key benefit to working in a less crowded office. Less people, means everyone gets to be involved in different areas. Comparatively, a London based Big 4 office will compartmentalise their staff into different areas. For example, you would likely only work in “WAM” otherwise known as Wealth and Asset Management. This can be great if it is the area you’re interested in, but it also means you do not get to experience other areas which may interest you without you knowing they will.
There is a lot of teamwork involved in working in audit. This has great benefits for your future career. It also shows future employers that you have an ability to work well within teams.
However, not all teamwork in an audit firm is enjoyable. There were plenty of instances where I hated the teams which I worked in. Big 4 firms attract a lot of different cultures and personality types. Some of these personality types can severely clash. I had to deal with managers who I found incredibly rude and lazy, which led to me leaving audit in the end.
Despite this, if you’re lucky and get put on a really solid team, it can be the greatest thing for the enjoyment of your job. Despite the fact I hated working on banking audits, I spent a long time auditing a large bank, which inherently had bigger teams. The team became very tightknit, and we socialised inside and outside of work. An audit team, when executed well, can become a family in the workplace. This is why it is important for Audit managers to put a lot of thought into selecting individuals for their teams.
Why I Hated Working in Audit
Despite the benefits of working in audit, I really did start to despise the role over time. There are many reasons for this which I will go into, but it is important to realise that not everyone will have the same experience. Not everyone in my same teams had the same experience. Your outcome from working in audit will depend significantly on your teams, the work you get given, your success at exams, and I think most importantly, the friends you make.
Note: Some of these reasons will be very dependant on the firm you join. However, from speaking to others’ it seems to be pretty consistent across the Big 4
Friends Left the Firm
I note this as the turning point for my career in Audit. There was a point where I was accepting of the fact I didn’t particularly enjoy the job. However, it was made semi-enjoyable by the fact I had several friends who worked in the same department as me. We would chat on Skype during the work day, which would make long and boring work skip by a little quicker.
After 2 years, these friends began to leave the office I was working in. One by one, they either left for a completely new career and decided accounting wasn’t for them, or they moved to different offices.
This meant by final year in Audit didn’t have the benefit of having a laugh throughout my day. It was just working on boring and repetitive work, without talking to people for the majority of the day.
The people management in my office was actually awful. There was a complete lack of understanding of people’s individual needs. Everyone was viewed as a number, and management didn’t care to learn about individuals’ strengths and weaknesses and how they needed to be treated individually. There was a general lack of people management skills across the management level.
Then on top of that, when complaints were made, individuals were made to feel as though they were stupid for raising a point. We were told time and time again that problems were being looked at, but then there was no clear resolution.
Any time positive things happened within the office, or the management gave the lower staff something, it was purely from a selfish point of view. They wanted something. It eventually started to feel more like a bribe than a reward for hard work. Instead of implementing change to resolve problems, they just wanted to mask the problem with a reward in the hope we would forget about the problem to begin with.
Every year we would do an employee satisfaction survey. My first year it was relatively positive, and only a few key negatives cropped up. However, in my final year, the office morale was at an all time low. The survey that year showed that 65% of employees hated their job. Instead of finding out why we had issues with the job, and trying to make adjustments for this, they just provided us with free fruit, or smoothie days. This wasn’t a solution, it was a distraction. Some were happy initially, while others saw right through it. I only realised how truly ridiculously bad the management was in this regard once I moved firms. Only then did I realise how truly good people management can be. I now work at a firm who genuinely cares about their staff, as opposed to feigning empathy in order to manipulate into not complaining.
Does Audit Serve A Purpose?
This isn’t going to be firm specific.
I genuinely have the view that Audit does not serve much of a purpose. Working from the inside, it is merely a tick-box exercise in order to meet regulatory standards.
I have seen the lack of effort put in by audit staff. Many overlook errors if they cannot be bothered to chase them, and think it can fly under the radar. Many auditors are working on auto pilot and just copying all the tasks performed in previous year. There is very little cognitive thought behind the work involved.
This means that the sole purpose of an audit is lost, in my opinion.
The issue here is that as an employee who is already a bit demotivated due to other issues, I struggle to do the work. Not because it is hard. But because in my mind it solves no benefitial final purpose. I’m doing tasks which feel as though they have no real impact upon the company I’m auditing.
Working without purpose is the worst feeling, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. This was the final straw for me in leaving Audit, and one of the key reasons for why I hated working in audit.
How To Get Out of Audit
You’ve likely landed on this page because you’re currently working in audit, and hate your job. Your end goal is to get out of your auditing job, and start working in a more enjoyable role. So, let’s lay out a plan for you to get out of audit!
Is it Audit or The Firm?
Your first question should be to really analyse your current position. Do you hateyour job, or the firm you work for? There are many ways people can mix these two things up. The work itself may actually be quite enjoyable, but the firm is such a drag on your happiness that you view the whole job as a nightmare.
If you’re in this scenario, then it is highly likely that simply moving firm will see a different outlook on your job. The people within a firm, as well as the management can have a massive impact on your enjoyment and mental health within that role.
Do you know anyone who works at other auditing firms in your local area? Speak to them and find out more about their firm. Perhaps they can put you in contact with the recruitment person at the firm if it sounds like something you might enjoy more. They will more than likely be happy to help, as most of these companies have referral bonuses in these situations.
What Is Your Dream Accounting Job?
Now that we’ve ticked that first check off the list and concluded that it isn’t the firm, and you just hate working in audit, let’s talk about what type of job you would like.
Your experience in audit has likely taught you what areas of the finance industry you enjoy. Perhaps you want to be the accountant in a small retail outlet, or perhaps you want to work at a bank. Try and note down the audit jobs you found interesting.
Then, it is time to start finding roles within these areas. I would always recommend getting a recruiter to help you out – they often have really beneficial contacts in your local area.
Do You Enjoy Accounting?
Perhaps you can’t think of any areas of finance you enjoy and find interesting. Then it is time to decide whether accounting is really for you. It is entirely possible that accounting just isn’t the right fit for you. I worked with several people who concluded that becoming an Accountant wasn’t right, and now they’re living very fulfilling lives in different careers.
If you think this is the case, I would give it 6 months of really hard thought before you make the official jump to leave your accounting/audit career. It is important to not regret it later on.
My Last Comments
My only final statement would be to make sure you leave at the right time, and on your own terms.
PLEASE, do not leave your audit job early if you’re still doing your Accounting Qualification. The benefit of working at a Big 4 firm is that they will pay for this. Just get the qualification, and then the world is your oyster!
If you need any advice, please don’t hesitate to get in contact.
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